The Cable

French foreign minister promises Security Council push against Syria

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said Monday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule and that France and the United States are prepared to push forward with a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning his regime for its violent crackdown on protesters. However, the path toward the resolution’s ratification may not be ...

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said Monday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule and that France and the United States are prepared to push forward with a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning his regime for its violent crackdown on protesters. However, the path toward the resolution’s ratification may not be as easy as he made it seem.

Juppé noted that France refrained from condemning Assad at the outbreak of unrest because it held out hope that he would launch a process of reforms, but those hopes have now been dashed. "In Syria, the process of reform is dead, and we think that Bashar has lost his legitimacy to rule the country," he said.

In remarks at the Brookings Institution on Monday, Juppé said that the difficulty in passing a resolution was that Russia, a longtime ally of Syria, "will veto any resolution … even if it’s a mild one." While Russian opposition had long been suspected, Juppé’s statement marked the first time an international figure had said definitively that Russia planned to use its veto.

Nevertheless, the foreign minister argued that the best course of action was to press forward with the resolution and force Russia to bear the costs of a veto. "We think it would be possible to get 11 votes in favor of the resolution," he said. "Maybe if [Russia] see[s] that there are 11 votes in favor … they will change their minds. It is a risk to take, and we are willing to take it."

It’s not clear, however, that France, Britain, and the United States can actually muster the 11 votes that Juppé claimed were already in favor of the resolution.

"I’m not convinced that we’ve got this in the bag," a diplomat on the Security Council said.

Of the council’s 15 members, nine are said to be firmly in support of a resolution condemning Syria: France, Britain, the United States, Germany, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gabon, Nigeria, Colombia, and Portugal, according to the council diplomat.

Brazil and South Africa are still on the fence, with Brazil seen as being marginally more sympathetic toward the resolution.

A majority of nine in the Security Council would not put the same sort of pressure on Russia to refrain from using its veto as a majority of 11.

The French foreign minister also addressed his plans to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, framing them as a vital step before the Palestinians seek recognition at the U.N. General Assembly in September. "The status quo is more untenable than ever, particularly in the context of the Arab Spring," he said. "Time is not on the side of peace."

France has proposed to convene a conference in Paris that would negotiate a settlement based on the 1967 borders with agreed upon land swaps, in line with the parameters of President Barack Obama’s May 19 speech. After reaching an agreement on borders and security arrangements, a second phase of talks would tackle the more sensitive issues of the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees in negotiations that would not exceed one year.

Juppé acknowledged that the idea has been received coolly by U.S. officials. "I wasn’t expecting enthusiasm for the French initiative when I arrived in Washington," he said. However, he said that France was willing to amend its plans in line with suggestions from its allies.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has accepted France’s initiative to revive peace talks, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still studying the proposal. Juppé has reportedly indicated that France would consider supporting the Palestinians’ request for full membership in the United Nations if the negotiations remain stalled. He did not directly address this issue on Monday, except to say that a U.N. vote would be "difficult for everybody."

David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute, said that the French initiative is being driven both by hope of a breakthrough engendered by Obama’s recent speech and fear of a diplomatic conundrum when the Palestinians take their case for statehood to the United Nations. "The importance here is that it reflects a desire of a key European power to follow up the Obama speeches with a practical idea that would be an alternative to the September vote at the U.N.," he said. "Obama has taken some knocks, but the French proposal suggests that it is having a favorable preliminary impact on a key audience."

In another break from the United States and Israel, Juppé argued that the reconciliation agreement signed between Fatah and Hamas could be a positive step.

"How can we imagine that a peace agreement would be respected and guarantee Israeli security if not all Palestinians were to agree to it?" he asked. "[W]e believe that this reconciliation could represent a chance for peace… if it leads Hamas to evolve in response to our expectations."

Colum Lynch contributed reporting to this article.

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